Saturday, June 16, 2018

Juneteenth Celebration: Our Freedom Day Story

My cousins, Armentha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia, Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that day in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing on and announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free.

The Reid Place, the old home of Lemuel Reid, near Abbeville, South Carolina, as it stood in 2004.

JUNETEENTH is a special holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. On that day, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order #3:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” that soon evolved into a national celebration of the emancipation from chattel slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, did not immediately emancipate most enslaved African Americans in the South, especially in Texas.

I often wonder about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free. How did they feel? What did they do? Did they cry a river of tears? This day was undoubtedly a dream come true. After Alice Marie Johnson was recently pardoned after serving over 20 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense, she stated that she performed a “Pentecostal holy dance” upon hearing the news from Kim Kardashian. I imagine the same type of jubilation that my enslaved ancestors displayed when they heard, “You are now free.” What an emotional day that must have been! The only difference here is that my enslaved ancestors had not been too-long imprisoned for a crime they committed; they and their ancestors had been held in inhumane yet legal bondage against their will for over 200 years.

Fortunately, my cousin, the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special story that his maternal grandfather – my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Senatobia, Mississippi – had shared with the family about his “Freedom Day.” Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa Bill and remembered many accounts he shared with him. Although Grandpa Bill was a reserved man, I’m told, he was not tight-lipped about his experiences during slavery in South Carolina. Cousin Ike voiced so many mouth-dropping stories to me, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

I listened with excitement as Cousin Ike recalled Grandpa Bill’s “Freedom Day.” He shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to the house and said to them, ‘Y’all is as free as I am.’ He asked them to stay on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them. Grandpa said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”

In an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina. He saw Grandpa Bill and others taking a break from working in the field, approached them, and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” Cousin Ike humorously shared, “Hearing that Mississippi had fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others packed up their wagons and moved to near Senatobia, Mississippi around Jan. 1866. (DNA is indicating that another sister, Louvenia, remained in Abbeville; more later.)

Grandpa Bill Reed married Sarah Partee-Edwards in 1871, and they had eleven children. He died on Nov. 30, 1937, at the old age of 91. During the week of his death, he had been out chopping wood. He lived to see 53 of his 57 grandchildren, as well as a number of great-grandchildren. Many of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren listened to his stories while sitting underneath his sycamore tree. His stories were not forgotten. On July 8, 2004, members of Reed Family visited Abbeville, South Carolina for the first time. We finally saw what Grandpa Bill had talked about for many years.

The descendants of Lemuel Reid placed this Welcome sign in their storefront to recognize our return back to Abbeville, South Carolina after 138 years.

Standing on the steps of the Abbeville County Courthouse, July 8, 2004

(All pictures are the property of Melvin Collier.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Jayson’s Journey: A Slave Schedule Story

Slave schedules are censuses taken in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses that contain the slave-owners’ names and the age, sex, and color of each of their slaves. Columns also report the number of fugitive and manumitted slaves. There is also a column that noted enslaved people who were “deaf, blind, insane, or idiotic.”  Unfortunately, very few names of the enslaved were recorded. First names were only recorded for most who were 100 years old or older. The slave schedules are available for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. They are not available for other states.

This week, author and genealogist Robyn Smith and I talked about historians’ frequent usage of the slave schedules in the TLC television series, Who Do You Think You Are, as well as Henry Louis Gates’ PBS television series, Finding Your Roots. This has been and continues to be a frequent dialogue in the genealogy community; many researchers express their concerns about how the slave schedules are used and what conclusions should not be drawn from them. I decided to present this hypothetical research story as an eye opener. I use the word “hypothetical” because the research scenario itself and Jayson are fictional, but the ancestors, documents, and conclusions presented in this blog post are factual. This scenario is a common occurrence.

Jayson Boyce, a journalism major in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Howard University, was given an assignment in his sociology class to write a comprehensive research paper. The class had a choice – either a research paper detailing a social aspect of a community or a research paper uncovering the history of a family, from slavery to the present. The class had to utilize primary sources. Since Jayson had always been curious about his family roots, he chose the latter. He was confident that his father’s father could get him started.

Two weeks later, Jayson flew home to Cleveland, Ohio to talk to his grandfather, who was 81 years old. His grandfather relayed to him how his father, Willis B. Boyce, was born in 1909, near Poplar Grove, Arkansas, but his family moved to Cleveland in the mid-1920s, when Willis was a teenager. Jayson did not know that his family was originally from Arkansas. However, his grandfather gave him another piece of valuable information. He shared that his father Willis always talked about a cousin named Tony Boyce who would often come to Arkansas from Mississippi to visit them. He was famously known as “Cuttin’ Tony from Como.”

After gathering these important tidbits of oral history, Jayson went to to see what he can find out. With relative ease, he was able to find his family in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. Federal Census records. They were living in Phillips County, Arkansas. By the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the family resided in Cleveland, Ohio, confirming his grandfather’s account. Jayson also observed that his great-great-grandfather, John Boyce, was reported in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as being born in January 1872 in Mississippi. Several of John’s siblings were also in his household, and they were born in Mississippi, too. Jayson discovered that his family had migrated to Arkansas from Mississippi around 1885.

Since much of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was destroyed in a fire, Jayson tried his luck with the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. He found his great-great-grandfather John Boyce in the household of his father, Mack Boyce, as well as two of John’s siblings who were in his household in Arkansas in 1900. They resided in Tate County, Mississippi. Jayson observed on a map that Tate County is adjacent to Panola County, where the town of Como is located just five miles from the Tate-Panola County line. Therefore, he successfully traced back to his three-times-great grandfather, Mack Boyce, whose age was reported as 35 in 1880. South Carolina was reported as the birthplace of Mack’s father and mother, as noted in the last two columns of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. Undoubtedly being born around 1845 in Mississippi, Mack had been enslaved, and the family’s roots go back to South Carolina.

The 1880 U.S. Federal Census of Tate County, Mississippi – the Boyce Family
Two of Tony Boyce’s children, Mack Boyce and Nancy Boyce Rice, lived next door.
1880 U.S. Federal Census; Census Place: Beat 1, Tate, Mississippi; Roll: 665; Family History Film: 1254665; Page: 169D; Enumeration District: 181

Jayson couldn’t help but notice that Mack’s next-door neighbors were an elderly couple named Tony Boyce & Lucy Boyce (see above). Tony’s reported age was 64, and his birthplace was noted as South Carolina. Jayson concluded that Tony Boyce was Mack’s father and therefore his 4-times-great grandfather. He also discovered that “Cuttin’ Tony Boyce,” who used to visit his great-great-grandfather John in Arkansas, was also another grandson of Tony Boyce whom he was named for. Jayson was excited. Since his research paper should start with slavery, he decided to gather more information on pertaining to Tony’s history, if possible.

Unfortunately, Jayson couldn’t find his family in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, which is a pivotal census for slave ancestral research. He was disappointed since that census is very often the first official record that recorded formerly enslaved African Americans by their first and last names. But Jayson didn’t let that deter him. He decided to see if the Boyce surname came from a Boyce slave-owner.

Only one Boyce showed up in the area from his search of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. A man named John Boyce, who was also born in South Carolina, resided in the Como district during slavery. Columns 8 and 9 of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census reported John Boyce’s real estate value as being worth $41,000 and his personal estate value as being worth $34,000. Therefore, Jayson theorized that John was a fairly wealthy man who likely owned slaves, including his family.

1860 U.S. Federal Census of Panola County, Mississippi – John & Martha Boyce 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2009; Census Place: Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M653_589; Page: 275; Family History Library Film: 803589

Jayson soon learned about the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules and decided to research those records, too. John Boyce was reported as owning 30 slaves in 1860 in Panola County. Among those 30 enslaved people is a 42-year-old Black male. This closely fits the profile of his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, who was born around 1816. Jayson knew that the ages for enslaved people or former slaves were often estimated. 

Jayson was very elated with his research findings. He organized his numerous sources and wrote his 18-page research paper that documented his family, starting with Tony Boyce as likely being enslaved by John Boyce during slavery in South Carolina and Mississippi, to sharecropping on a farm in the Arkansas Delta, to being part of the Great Migration to the North, and to the present in Cleveland, Ohio. He added a lot of anecdotes from his grandfather. He also included maps showing the migration pattern of the Boyce Family, from South Carolina to Panola County, Mississippi to Phillips County, Arkansas, and then to Cleveland, Ohio. Jayson’s professor was impressed with his research paper and gave him an A.

A year and a half later, Jayson noticed that a researcher named Melvin Collier also has Tony Boyce in his family tree on He contacted Melvin to see how he is related to Tony. Melvin revealed to him that Tony Boyce was an older brother of his great-great-great-grandmother, Clarissa Bobo. This made them to be 5th cousins once removed. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery details how this relationship was uncovered.

Like Tony Boyce, Clarissa also resided in Tate County, Mississippi in 1880, just a few miles from Como. Melvin also communicated to Jayson that Clarissa had been enslaved by Dr. William J. Bobo, who brought her and her family to Panola County, Mississippi in 1858 from Union County, South Carolina. Clarissa had been previously enslaved by Dr. Bobo’s father-in-law, David Boyce (1781-1830) of Union County. Two of David’s daughters, Margaret and Mary Marjory Boyce, married two brothers, Dr. William Bobo and Barham Bobo Jr., respectively. Melvin also e-mailed to Jayson more information that documented Tony Boyce in slavery. This is what Melvin revealed to Jayson.

EVIDENCE #1: Thirty (30) enslaved people appraised on the inventory of David Boyce’s estate, February 23, 1831, Union County, South Carolina (transcription)

Toney was inventoried in the late David Boyce’s estate in 1831. His estate record show that David Boyce’s wife, Agnes Turner Boyce, inherited Toney from the estate. David died intestate (without having made a will) on Nov. 22, 1830, and 25 of the 30 slaves went to Agnes. She later moved to Panola County, Mississippi with some of her children around 1845.

South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Author: South Carolina. Probate Court (Union County); Probate Place: Union, South Carolina; Estate of David Boyce, 1831.

EVIDENCE #2: The 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Panola County, Mississippi, Agnes Boyce

This census shows Agnes Boyce as the head of household, with her daughter, Mary Marjory Boyce Bobo, and Mary’s son, Barham Bobo, living with her. Mary was the widow of Barham Bobo Jr. of Union County, S.C., who died shortly after their son’s birth. 1850 U.S. Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2009; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M432_379; Page: 341A; Image: 303.

EVIDENCE #3: The 1850 Panola County, Mississippi Slave Schedule, Agnes Boyce

This slave census shows that Agnes Boyce owned 37 slaves in 1850 in Panola County, Mississippi. 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2004; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll M432; Page: 157.

EVIDENCE #4: Slave Deed, Dec. 31, 1857, Panola County, Mississippi (transcription)

This deed record was found while researching microfilmed Panola County deed records at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History in Jackson. This deed shows that 21 named enslaved people, including one named TONEY, were transferred from Mary Marjory Bobo to her son, Barham Bobo, in Dec. 1857. This deed also states that Mary had acquired them from her mother, Agnes Boyce, on May 2, 1855. Agnes died two years later on Dec. 28, 1857.

EVIDENCE #5: Southern Claims Commission Record, Barham Bobo, Claim No. 16710, Sept. 17, 1872, Panola County, Mississippi

Southern Claims Commission. Roll: scc_1071_1248_0001; Place: Panola, Mississippi; Claimant: Barham Bobo; Claim Number: 16710; Claim Date: 17 Sep 1872;

On March 3, 1871, Congress established the Southern Claims Commission to compensate individuals who claimed to have had stores and supplies, such as horses and crops, taken by or furnished to the Union Army during the Civil War. Testimonies were taken by neighbors, friends, and former slaves to prove their claims. Additionally, hundreds of African Americans filed claims, and their files contain extraordinary personal data.

In 2006, digitized and released the Southern Claims Commission records. Their online database contains images of every claim and all accompanying paperwork. Barham Bobo was one of 22,298 claims that were filed. His papers, dated Sept. 17, 1872, stated that several mules, mares, and horses, valued at $1,900, were taken during the Civil War by the 11th Illinois Calvary Regiment from the plantation of his mother, who died on Sept. 15, 1870. Being her only child, Barham was the administrator of her estate. His claim was denied.

However, on the line for the “Names and residences of witnesses who will be relied upon to prove the other facts alleged in the foregoing petition” were the following names: Tony Boyce, Jeff Williams, Wat Boyce, William Boyce & others. This document was additional proof that Tony Boyce was enslaved on the plantation that was once owned by Agnes Boyce and that fell into the hands of her daughter, Mary M. Bobo, and grandson, Barham Bobo.

Conclusion: One might understand why Jayson Boyce was confident that his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, had been last enslaved by John Boyce. It was easy to conclude that. However, more research revealed that Tony’s last enslaver was Barham Bobo III (1833-1900). He chose to retain the Boyce surname likely because he had been born on David Boyce’s farm in South Carolina, and he had remained enslaved by David’s widow, Agnes Boyce, after his death, up until 1855. He was eventually transferred to Agnes’ grandson, Barham Bobo, in 1857. Tony was not the 42-year-old Black male reported for John Boyce in 1860. Therefore, slave schedules should never serve as direct proof of one’s enslaved ancestor and their enslaver, simply because they don’t contain the names of the enslaved.